A Celebration of Service

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Gravel clanged into wheelbarrows and a small Bobcat rumbled and grumbled in the chilly morning air.

Julia M. Dendinger-News-Bulletin photo: Shovel full by shovel, Floyd Clark helps get 82 tons of gravel spread across the bare dirt in front of Daniel Fernandez VFW Post 9676 in Los Lunas. Clark, a Home Depot employee at the Gallup store, was one of nearly 50 associates who descended on the post Friday to renovate and landscape the building as part of the company’s Celebration of Service, a program that assists veterans and their families.

As the dust rose, and the sweat started coming, outer layers of clothing were abandoned, revealing blazes of orange on the people hustling and bustling around Daniel Fernandez VFW Post 9676 in Los Lunas.

And it wasn’t just any orange — it was The Home Depot orange.

As Post Commander James Garley smiled and looked on, nearly 50 “orange ants,” as he dubbed them, swarmed over the property spreading gravel, planting trees and painting the facade of the historic building that houses the post.

All the orange and smiles and sweat is thanks to the Celebration of Service, a program initiated by The Home Depot and funded by grants through The Home Depot Foundation, to assist veterans and their families by providing materials and labor, free of cost, to individual veterans and service organizations around the country.

Wendy Weeks, the western division representative of the foundation, said the renovations at the Los Lunas post were part of a two-month push to highlight the program.

Bracketed by two very significant dates — Sept. 11 and Veterans Day on Nov. 11 — Weeks said during that time, 300 projects will be completed and more than 9,000 associates of The Home Depot will volunteer their time.

“We’ve had people rearrange their days off to do work on these projects,” Weeks said. “One of our core values as a company is to give back to the community.”

The Celebration of Service started last year, Weeks said, with The Home Depot committing to spending $30 million in three years to assist veterans and their families.

“We actually spent it too fast. It was gone in eight months,” she said. “We knew there were veteran needs out there, we just didn’t know how much.

“So as of this fall, The Home Depot dedicated another $50 million over the next three years. It will all go to benefit vets and their families.”

Garley called the effort “awesome.”

“This is a wonderful opportunity to get some much needed work done on the building,” Garley said.

The VFW post is only a tenant of the building, which belongs to the village of Los Lunas, he said.

“I know the village has wanted to do some repairs on the building, which are costly, but with the state of the economy lately, it just wasn’t in the budget,” Garley said. “When Home Depot approached me about this, I went to the Michael Jaramillo (director of parks, recreation and streets), to clear it with them. He was thrilled with the opportunity.”

Working with the village and the state historic registry, the post and the company got the green light for the project.

“Since it is an historic building, there are some limitations,” Weeks said. “But we can still do a lot.”

Such as bring in 82 tons of gravel, plant trees along the east side of the building, frame the sign with metal to help it stand up to the fierce New Mexico winds better and completely repaint the exterior.

Weeks said they are hoping to partner with the village and post again to replace some of the flooring inside the building.

“Hopefully, getting it spruced up with help us increase membership,” Garley said.

He continued, saying the post would pay the first year of dues for any veterans of wars in Iraq or Afghanistan wanting to join.

“We are elated about this. They are not only being involved with the community, but the veterans, too,” Garley said of The Home Depot.

Ben Gomez, the manager of The Home Depot in Los Lunas, said he was extremely proud to be a part of a program seeking out military organizations to help.

“The project at the VFW is one I personally sought out,” Gomez said. “And I think that is a huge difference with our program. A lot of companies do stuff for organizations, but generally they have to come to the company.”

Gomez said people have a different perception of chain stores, usually considering them not really local stores.

“I think this is a good reminder that our associates and customers are 100 percent local,” he said. “This is an opportunity to show our commitment and respect to our vets. Our associates are donating their time, some of them are even coming from as far away as Santa Fe and Gallup.

“They are doing it because they believe in letting servicemen and women and vets know they are not forgotten.”

Penny Craig was one of those associates who drove two hours from Gallup to start work at 8 a.m. on her day off.

“I like to get out and work and give to the community. Especially to our vets. It means a lot,” Craig said.

Veterans are part of his family, said Shawn Ducat, who does asset protection for the Los Lunas store, so helping the VFW post is something close to his heart.

“My uncle and nephew have both served,” Ducat said. “This is a worthwhile cause.”

For information about The Home Depot Foundation and the grants it offers, visit www.homedepotfoundation.org, or visit a local Home Depot store.


-- Email the author at jdendinger@news-bulletin.com.